Excerpt from Birds of America by Lorrie Moore, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Birds of America

By Lorrie Moore

Birds of America
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  • Hardcover: Sep 1998,
    291 pages.
    Paperback: Sep 1999,
    291 pages.

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"No."

"No?" She keeps going. She looks up at him romantically, yearningly. " 'When I take you out in my surrey, when I take you out in my surrey with the fringe on--' "

"No," Andrew interrupts emphatically.

"Hmm. Well, don't worry. Everyone on your team will know it."

The righteous indignation is returning to his face. "If I don't know it, what makes you think they'll know it?" Perhaps this is because of his work, the technosecrecy of it. He knows; they don't.

"They'll know it," Therese says. "I guarantee." She turns to leave.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa," says Andrew. The gray-pink of rage is back in his skin. What has he become? She hasn't a clue. He is successfully top secret. He is classified information. "I'm not doing this," he says. "I refuse."

Therese stares at him. This is the assertiveness he can't exercise on the job. Perhaps here, where he is no longer a cog-though-a-prized cog, he can insist on certain things. The Cold War is over, she wants to say. But what has replaced it is this: children who have turned on one another, now that the gods--or were they only guards?--have fled. "Okay, fine," she says. "I'll make up another."

"We're doing another one," announces Andrew triumphantly as they go back into the living room. He waves the paper scrap. "Have any of you ever even heard of a song called 'The Surrey with the Fringe on Top'?"

"Sure," says Pam, looking at him in a puzzled way. No doubt he seems different to her around the holidays.

"You have?" He seems a bit flummoxed. He looks at Ann. "Have you?" Ann looks reluctant to break ranks with him but says, quietly, "Yeah."

"Tad, how about you?" he asks.

Tad has been napping off and on, his head thrown back against the sofa, but now he jerks awake. "Uh, yeah," he says.

"Tad's not feeling that well," says Ann.

In desperation, Andrew turns toward the other team. "And you all know it, too?" "I don't know it," says Ray. He is the only one. He doesn't know a show tune from a chauffeur. In a way, that's what Therese likes about him.

Andrew sits back down, refusing to admit defeat. "Ray didn't know it," he says. Therese can't think of a song, so she writes "Clarence Thomas" and hands the slip back to Andrew. As he ponders his options, Therese's mother gets up and comes back holding Dixie cups and a bottle of cranberry drink. "Who would like some cranberry juice?" she says, and starts pouring. She hands the cups out carefully to everyone. "We don't have the wineglasses unpacked, so we'll have to make do."

"We'll have to make do" is one of their mother's favorite expressions, acquired during the Depression and made indelible during the war. When they were little, Therese and Andrew used to look at each other and say, "We'll have to make do-do," but when Therese glances over at Andrew now, nothing registers. He has forgotten. He is thinking only of the charade.

Ray sips his a little sloppily, and a drop spills on the chair. Therese hands him a napkin and he dabs at the upholstery with it, but it is Ann who is swiftly up, out to the kitchen, and back with a cold, wet cloth, wiping at Ray's chair in a kind of rebuke.

"Oh, don't worry," her mother is saying.

"I think I've got it," says Ann solemnly.

"I'm doing my clues now," says Andrew impatiently. Therese looks over at Winnie, who, calm and observant in her mother's arms, a pink incontinent Buddha who knows all her letters, seems like the sanest person in the room.

Andrew is making a sweeping gesture with his arm, something meant to include everyone in the room.

"People," says Tad.

"Family," says Pam.

Ann has come back from the kitchen and sits down on the sofa. "Us," she says. Andrew smiles and nods.

Use of this excerpt from Birds of America may be made only for purposes of promoting the book, with no changes, editing, or additions whatsoever, and must be accompanied by the following copyright notice: Copyright © 1998 by Lorrie Moore. All rights reserved.

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